By Tammy Gray
A $4.5 million renovation of the Navajo County Jail in Holbrook is nearly complete. The new kitchen and laundry facilities are in operation, the medical center is being stocked with equipment, and the new booking and sally port areas are expected to be complete in less than six months.
Sheriff K.C. Clark explained that although the expansion carries a high price tag, it did not cost taxpayers any more than it would have to pay off the previous jail expansion bond.
The new construction was funded through the refinancing of an old high-interest bond at a much lower rate. According to Clark, even though the term of the bond is now extended, the total cost is still less than if the old bond were paid off according to the original schedule, thanks to the lower interest rate.
“When they got the first bond years ago the county had no credit,” Clark said. “Finance worked hard and got caught up on the audits and now the county has a great credit rating.”
The jail expansion is designed to meet the county’s needs for the next 20 to 25 years, and incorporates some sorely needed features, such as additional suicide-watch cells, kitchen dry goods storage, and enough washers and dryers to keep up with laundry demand. It also increases security and reduces the workload for staff by limiting the movement of inmates.
“The object is very simple. The less moving parts, the less there is that can go wrong,” Clark said.
He noted that one of the most important features of the expansion is a new medical facility that will allow inmates to receive basic medical and dental treatments without leaving the facility. In the past, inmates were transported to appointments, a process that took a lot of staff time and posed a security risk. The medical unit will reduce the number of transports and will allow the jail to house inmates with certain conditions that the county previously paid high fees to house elsewhere.
Among the features of the new medical unit are a reverse air-flow room for inmates with certain types of contagious disease, such as tuberculosis, and a dorm-style cell where inmates who require constant medical care, but do not need to be hospitalized, can be held during their stay. The unit also includes a special ambulance bay so that when an emergency response is necessary inmates can be securely moved from the facility. Previously, the ambulance crew had to receive the inmate in the booking area.
“This will result in a quicker response and greater security since they’re not having to go through an area where there’s other inmates,” Clark explained.
Nurses will staff the unit, and doctors and dentists will come to the facility to provide services on a regular basis. Clark noted that the medical equipment for the unit is being provided by the county health district.
The new jail kitchen, which is already operating, was designed with efficiency, cleanliness and safety in mind. Clark explained that the old kitchen was cramped, difficult to clean and lacked necessary food storage space. The new facility has spacious storage areas for dry, refrigerated and frozen goods, as well as plenty of workspace for preparation, cooking and serving. Food can be prepared assembly-line style, without workers running into each other. He pointed out that the open space also allows supervisors to keep a better eye on inmates working in the kitchen.
“It’s very open,” he said. “Fewer walls mean there’s less chance for them to do something they shouldn’t.”
In addition to being designed for easy cleaning, the new kitchen includes an indoor warm-water spray station for cleaning large items like carts. Clark noted that the old spray station was outdoors, making it difficult to clean certain items in the winter.
The laundry facility is also larger than the old one, and includes washing, drying and sorting areas, as well as a sewing area for repairs. The laundry machines are built into a wall with a special limited-access passageway in the back. The passageway contains tubing that feeds detergent to the machines. Clark explained that this makes it possible for inmate workers to wash laundry without having access to chemicals. It also provides a secure space for repairmen to work when necessary.
Still under construction is a new booking area and sally port, as well as a sloped hallway that will eliminate the need to use an elevator to access parts of the jail. Clark explained that not only is the elevator costly to maintain and operate, it is an inefficient way to move people and materials. The hallway will provide quick access between newer and older parts of the jail.
The new booking area will include additional holding cells, as well as two shower and dress-out areas to help speed up the booking process. It will also have windows that will provide a direct line of sight into the sally port so that booking officers can observe arrivals and departures.
The internal transport unit, which is responsible for taking inmates to court appearances, as well as to and from other agencies, will have its own separate entrance and holding cells. Clark noted that in the existing facility, the transport unit shares the same entrance into the booking area as everyone else, which often leads to overcrowding and back-ups.
“Everyone came in and out through the same door, and it became a real problem,” he said, noting that the existing booking area was not designed for the volume of traffic it receives.
The old booking area and nurses station will be remodeled to serve as a holding area for juveniles being held as adults. Clark explained that it will keep the juveniles separate from adult inmates at all times and spare the county the expense of paying other agencies to house them.
The remodel will also include five suicide-watch cells, an increase from three, which Clark noted was desperately needed to be able to adequately observe certain at-risk inmates.
A small part of the original jail facility will remain intact until it is needed for other purposes. Clark explained that a unit of cells was previously remodeled to house Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) inmates. The cells have amenities such as cable television access and electrical outlets that DOC requires. The unit is currently empty, since DOC moved the inmates to a privately operated prison, but Clark has plans to allow inmates to pay to upgrade to these cells.
“That way we can help pay for the facility and it saves money because we’re not having to tear it out,” he said. “Later, if we need that space, we can tear it out and use it, and that program will end.”
As part of the expansion project, a new camera and door control system will be installed in the jail and the adjacent juvenile detention facility. County Manager James Jayne explained that the existing system is outdated, and that it was most cost-effective to install a new system during the remodeling and construction process.
“We took the opportunity with the expansion, along with the remodel, to update the cameras and door control system,” he said. “It also ties the adult and juvenile facilities together.”
According to Jayne, each facility will have control of its own cameras and doors, but in the event of an emergency, one facility can step in and take control of the other.
“It’s a security issue,” he noted. “It’s also an economy of scale to do the two together.”
Jayne explained that the cost was included in the original $4.5 million budget for the jail expansion, but was approved by the board of supervisors as a $344,000 change order in December because the bid was received late.
“There was a placeholder in the budget for technology, but the quote was late in coming,” he said. “It was in the plans, it was just the timing of it.”
By Tammy Gray